Seniors reflect on their time at UD:
Seminarians are somewhat removed from normal university life. We are, in some sense, already set apart to prepare for a very particular vocation, one of wholehearted proclamation of the Gospel to men in everyday life. The University of Dallas is a beautiful and wonderful place to have been formed for that vocation.
Sure, there are courses I wish I could have skipped, but then there are also others I wish I could have devoted the entire semester to studying, and the latter outnumber the former by far. At least in my experience of the Core and the departments of philosophy, classics and theology, each professor, with very few exceptions, genuinely wished to give every student something of the joy they themselves had found in their discipline and, further, did so within a framework or worldview a Catholic seminarian could adopt for his own life with little modification.
I cannot speak very much about the UD social life, on account of “responsible hours” (i.e., “curfew”) and various other limitations, which are all truly appropriate for us. And yet I am truly grateful to the non-seminarian friends I have made for including me in their circles of friends as far as that has been possible. This is another important aspect of UD that makes it an excellent place for seminarian formation. Here, we are both apart from and a part of the university. As we will do in the parish, here we straddle that distance between the Mall and the chapel, between dominating the football field and praying afterwards, between tears for a friend and Mass. At UD, we have the opportunity to be both normal students, complaining about professors and struggling with papers, and also special witnesses of Christ, calling our brothers and sisters (more and less effectively, admittedly) to raise their eyes to a God bigger and wider than anything we could fit into our heads.
To those returning next year, I encourage you to participate in the formation of your future pastors by befriending one or a few or coming to the seminary for Sunday Mass or to our Living Stations. To those who have done so and to those who will now be graduating with me, thank you for forming well my brothers and me to be holy priests.
That the University of Dallas is a “liberal arts” college with a “core curriculum,” dedicated to the “pursuit of wisdom, truth and virtue” and to the “recovery of the Western heritage,” is already well-known by the community here. But, though such characterizations are accurate and good, the loftiness of the diction, spoken so triumphantly, can sometimes obscure the other side of UD life that I find to be equally essential: the failures.
At this university for independent thinkers, life is set up to provide students with what seems to be complete independence. In the three spheres of life here—the social, academic and religious—no one is making choices for you. This is not Thomas Aquinas College: You are free to fall however far and in whatever way you wish.
But neither is it like a state school. There too you are free to fail however you wish, but there is a crucial difference: In a state school, failures are not treated as such, because there is no wrong way to live. UD is unique in that it puts independence in the perfect context, where each of the three spheres of life acts as a support for the others and provides the standards by which to recognize our shortcomings. Though we are free to live out our social lives however we will, there is the constant invitation to compare one’s social life to the standards set by the philosophy and literature that we read in class.
If we struggle in our attempts to live according to the faith, we are not alone; there is a strong Catholic community here to struggle along with us. Failures in both social and academic life serve as reminders that we are limited beings, and that we must rely on God. Though given complete independence, the students here are not left helpless. We are given the means to recognize those failures for what they are, and that, I believe, is one of the greatest successes.
As I approach the end of my time here and look back on my own failures of the past four years, I do not despair. I am grateful for having had the invaluable opportunity to fail here, at this wonderful institution.
When I joined Collegium, I expected to learn to manipulate my voice so that I could sing better. I wanted to learn how to sing higher notes, how to produce vibrato and how to project. Mrs. Walker taught me that in order to sing well, I needed to relinquish control of my voice and let it work. I had to allow my jaw to drop and let my lungs draw air on their own, let the air flow freely and unforced so that it could naturally spin, and focus on the words and extend the vowels rather than focus on the notes that I needed to sing. I had to trust in the techniques she taught me, and try not to listen to the sound coming out of my mouth or adjust my voice as I thought fit. I also had to trust in my knowledge of the music, which required that I practice it. Most importantly, Mrs. Walker continuously reminded me that the music is a prayer, and as such I should always be praying and meaning the words that I sing.
In the same way, UD has taught me how to think, reason and play—in more than one sense of the word. I cannot force myself to think the right thoughts, but when I encounter a problem, I can “play” with it using my knowledge in order to stimulate thoughts despite the fact that I have no idea where “playing” will lead me. But I also need to “play” in the sense of having fun. We at UD are often so focused on our studies that we forget that there is in fact more to life than studying. We as humans need the rest and rejuvenation that comes from eating, sleeping and having fun, and we would be doing ourselves a disservice by passing up the opportunity to solidify our friendships here with people of similar minds and religious beliefs. We need to relinquish some of that control and allow faith and friendship to work in our lives. Some of us have gotten it down, but there are still many that have not let their lives at UD have much more meaning and beauty than homework, tests and essays.
Looking back on four years at UD is like looking back on a summer of high hopes and ambitious plans. You might have made some money, had a good time, even read a few of the books you optimistically put on your reading list throughout the semester before, but what you notice most is what you missed: the money you didn’t make, the time you wasted, the friends you didn’t see, the books you didn’t read. They’re not your really bad decisions—no, you close your eyes to those and try to forget about them—but your mediocre ones, the ones you could have made much better with just a little extra effort, the “A-’s” and “B+’s” of life.
At UD, the “A-’s” that irk me the most aren’t those on my transcript. No, they’re the ones that I’d give to the way I approached my classes and my professors. And they’re the sort of “A-’s” that, were it not for grade-inflation, would be “C’s.”
I treated classes and reading assignments as things to be gotten through; I often did not do the reading, and at least once bragged that “I got an A on that exam, and I never even bought the book.” I have said dumber things only under the influences of alcohol or exhaustion.
More regrettably, I seldom took the time to cultivate friendships with my professors. Instead of going to them as the valuable mentors and resources that they are, I maintained that high-school immaturity and avoided them as the givers of lectures, assignments and grades. I have had many enlightening conversations with friends. Why did it take me until this semester to realize that I could do the same with my professors? In retrospect, I realize that I spent the least time possible with the people for whose instruction I was paying to be here. At best, I wasted time; at worst, I missed an opportunity that I don’t see repeating itself in my life.
I love UD for what it is. Too bad I neglected the very things that make it great.